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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ads for Nintendo Baseball Game from 1960

Today we are taking a look at some copies of one of Japan's shōnen manga, called Shūkan Shōnen Sandē (週刊少年サンデー), which means Weekly Shōnen Sunday. Shōnen manga are magazines aimed at boys from around 12 to 18 years, featuring comics but also news items and information about sports and leasure activities that interest this demographic.

Weekly Shōnen Sunday is one of the longest running of these magazines in Japan. It started in 1959 and is still published weekly today, sixty-one years later (released on Wednesday's, despite its name).

Weekly Shōnen Sunday - front

These magazines are great to browse through for people with an interest in Japan's (pop) culture. However, we are especially interested in the ads on the back of these issues, as they include advertisements for one of Nintendo earliest toys, the Disney Baseball Game (ディズニー野球盤, which means Disney Baseball Board).

Weekly Shōnen Sunday - back

The history of Nintendo as a toy company - when they started expanding beyond cards, chess, mahjong and other more traditional games - is still a bit misty.

In the official company overview at the Nintendo corporate website, the 1966 Ultra Hand is the first toy mentioned. Although this was a landmark event for Nintendo, as it was their first million-seller toy, it is often mistaken as the first Nintendo toy, which it wasn't. In the period from the end of the 1950s up to the release of the Ultra Hand, Nintendo did produce various other toys, including this baseball game.

Nintendo Disney Baseball Game (version B)

The exact release dates of the Nintendo toys from this period are not very clear, as there are no official records of this. The games themselves do not include a copyright dates or other indicators. Having a release date really helps understanding the company history better, as it allows us to place the toys in chronological order and also to compare them to competing toys appearing at around the same time. Toy companies were (are) constantly copying and lending ideas from each other, and having a clear timeline helps, amongst other things, to establish which was the original and which was the copy.

The two particular Weekly Shōnen Sunday issues shown here are both from 1960. They are the issues from weeks 33 and 47, released on August 14 and November 20, respectively.

The inclusion of the Nintendo toy in these magazines immediately gives us a clear date: Disney Baseball Game was already around in 1960! This is a few years before the earlier assumed release date of this game. Based on this I have updated the dates mentioned in the earlier post.

Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 1960

The slogans in the ad below, from week 33 in 1960, say "Play ball with the Disney team" and "now for sale" at "departement stores nationwide".

A few other interesting things can be learned from this ad. The product features listed include:
  • "Nice plastic stand"
  • "Beautiful unbreakable golden bat"
  • "You can write the score on the scoreboard"
The game was advertised as "colour photo deluxe", as opposed to some of the competing products that used a simpeler art style. The retail price for the Disney version was ¥1000, double the price for another version listed as "Fuji C board".

As selling agency (distributor) the company Kawada from Tokyo is listed (full name Kawada shōten or 河田商店), which is most likely the company Kawada that is still in business today, now well known for their Diablock nd Nanoblock toy lines. It can be assumed that Nintendo cooperated with them for distribution at that time.

As a second selling agency, Nippon Game KK is included. The "KK" stand for kabushiki kaisha or "stock company", which is one of the legal entity company types used in Japan. Nippon Game was a company and brand name used by Nintendo for a short period to sell their toys (more on that here). Presumably the distribution of this game was handled by Kawada and Nippon Game in some form of cooperation, though details of their relationship are unknown.

At the bottom of the ad, Nintendo is mentioned as the manufacturer, using the company name Nintendō karuta kabushiki gaisha (任天堂骨牌株式会社). Although they may possibly have subcontracting the work to Epoch, who produced very simliar games at the time.

Nintendo toy ad in Weekly Shōnen Sunday #33 1960

The second ad, appearing around three months later in issue 47 of 1960, shows Disney Baseball Board as one of two games distributed by Kawada. By now, Kawada had changed their full name to Kawada kabushiki gaisha.

This time there is no direct mention of either Nintendo or Nippon Game.

The ad mentions two versions of Disney Baseball Board, called version A and B, with a retail price of ¥1000 and ¥600, respectively.

Version B is a simpler version of version A, where the golden metal bat is replaced by a red plastic one. Another and even more significant change is a simplification of the mechanism that allows the pitcher to curve the thrown ball. In version A this can be manually controlled, while in version B this is replaced by a random effect, caused by a stationary magnet on the underside of the board.

Nintendo toy ad in Weekly Shōnen Sunday #47 1960

A third ad can be found in issue 24, from June 12 1960.

Nintendo toy ad in Weekly Shōnen Sunday #24 1960

It shows a picture of a boy playing the game with his mother.

For more information on the Nintendo Disney Baseball Game, check out this previous post.

If you like these old Japanese magazines, check out this post about Nintendo card ads from the 1950s.

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